Story Ideas from the Oxford English Dictionary by Karen Bovenmyer

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MZ’s nonfiction editor is back with more story-idea-generating words from the Oxford English Dictionary. Discover new words, story concepts, and reflections on how English evolves (or some say, steals words shamelessly and makes up the rest).

Story Ideas from the Oxford English Dictionary

by Karen Bovenmyer

I’ve been working with my editor on my first novel, which releases next year. It’s an LGBT historical pirate adventure set in the Caribbean of 1822, so I’ve relied heavily on the Oxford English Dictionary and Historical Thesaurus to check that I’m not using words and phrases that weren’t in common use yet. I also love to write science fiction and fantasy, so during my OED adventures, I keep a digest of interesting words for personal reference. Here are the ones I’ve collected during the last six months I think will inspire you the most—read this long-tongued article, get scienced, then get kilig, don’t be a rudesby, and sit down to make some autoschediastic stories. Send them out—don’t leave us any Nachlass! Stuck? Have a character puggle a latebricole from a dream-hole and act bahala na about it.

antelope (1417): A fierce and elusive mythical creature with long serrated horns, said to haunt the banks of the Euphrates river; (now more fully heraldic antelope) a heraldic animal representing this (often depicted also with a spiked nose, and a tufted mane and long tail). Now archaic or historical

Anthropocene (2000): The era of geological time during which human activity is considered to be the dominant influence on the environment, climate, and ecology of the earth. The Anthropocene is most commonly taken to extend from the time of the Industrial Revolution to the present, but is sometimes considered to include much or all of the Holocene

arré (1845): Used to express a range of emotions and commands, especially annoyance, surprise, or interest, or to attract someone’s attention (from Hindi)

Askapart (1330): a legendary giant defeated by the eponymous protagonist in the story of Sir Bevis of Southampton; a person likened to this giant

autoschediastic (1641): something done on the spur of the moment or without preparation; an extemporized piece of work

bahala na (1921): Expressing an attitude of optimistic acceptance or fatalistic resignation, especially in acknowledging that the outcome of an uncertain or difficult situation is beyond one’s control or is preordained (from Tagalog)

bioastronautics (1957): the branch of science concerned with the physiological and psychological effects of spaceflight on living organisms, especially human beings

cryptarchy (1798): secret government; an example of this

draco volans (1554): a large meteor which burns or glows brightly on entering the earth’s atmosphere; a fireball (see also FIREDRAKE now historical)

dream-hole (1559): a slit or opening in an external wall of a building

Drake equation (1961): an equation devised to estimate the number of extraterrestrial civilizations that may potentially be detected in our galaxy

feckful (1568): powerful, effective, efficient, vigorous

footle (1891): to act or talk foolishly; to occupy oneself in an aimless or trivial way

kilig (1998): of a person: exhilarated by an exciting or romantic experience; thrilled, elated, gratified (from Tagalog)

latebricole (1889): of an animal, especially a spider: living concealed in a hole

lockchester (1400): a woodlouse

long-tongued (1553): talkative, loquacious, especially excessively so; prone to speaking out of turn or revealing secrets

marlock (1763): a prank, a practical joke; a frolic; a playful gesture; a flirtatious glance

melanite (636): an imaginary stone supposed to exude a honey-like substance

metopomancy (1656): divination by the lines on the forehead or face

mixty-maxty (1786): oddly mixed or jumbled together; motley; muddled, confused

morris dance (1458): a lively traditional English dance performed in formation by a group of dancers in a distinctive costume (usually wearing bells and ribbons and carrying handkerchiefs or sticks, to emphasize the rhythm and movement), often accompanied by a character who generally represents a symbolic or legendary figure (as the Fool, Hobby Horse, Maid Marian, etc.); any of a repertoire of such dances. Hence: any mumming performance of which such dancing is an important feature

nagual (1822): among certain indigenous peoples of Mexico and surrounding countries: a guardian spirit in animal form, believed to accompany and guide an individual through life; an animal form believed to be assumed by a human through magical or supernatural means

Nachlass (1841): writings remaining unpublished at an author’s death

Omega point (1955): a hypothesized end to evolutionary development in which all sentient life will converge into a supreme consciousness

puggle (1863): to push or poke a stick or wire down a hole or aperture and work it about in order to clear an obstruction, drive out an animal, etc.

quatsch (1907): nonsense, rubbish. Frequently used as an exclamation to express dismissal of a statement

rhyparographer (1656): a person who paints or writes about distasteful or sordid subjects

rodomontade (1587): a vainglorious brag or boast; an extravagantly boastful, arrogant, or bombastic speech or piece of writing; an arrogant act

rudesby (1566): a rude, ill-mannered, or badly behaved person

scienced (1636): knowledgeable, learned; skilled or trained in a specified profession or pursuit; (in later use also) adopting a scientific approach

synthespian (1989): a computer-generated character in a film

supernaculum (1592): To the last drop, to the bottom; frequently used: in to drink supernaculum. Also: over one’s thumbnail. Now rare. With reference to the practice of turning up an emptied cup or glass on one’s left thumbnail to show that all the drink has been consumed

waywiser (1651): an instrument for measuring and indicating distance travelled, especially by road


Karen Bovenmyer earned an MFA in Creative Writing: Popular Fiction from the University of Southern Maine. She teaches and mentors students at Iowa State University and loves serving as the Nonfiction Assistant Editor of Escape Artists’ Mothership Zeta Magazine. She is the 2016 recipient of the Horror Writers Association Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Scholarship and is a member of the Science Fiction Poetry and Horror Writers Associations. Her short stories and poems appear in more than 20 publications and her first novel, Swift for the Sun, will be available Spring 2017.